Infections Are Back With A Vengeance (Because antibiotics
have been abused)
A few decades ago the
development of antibiotics led many people to believe that the threat offered by
infectious diseases had, to a large extent, been conquered.
combination of greed and stupidity has changed all that. The effectiveness of
antibiotics has been dramatically weakened by three main groups: the companies
making them, the medical profession and the farming industry. Each of these
groups has acted irresponsibly and dangerously. Since they cannot possibly have
been unaware of the impact their actions would have, it is impossible to avoid
the conclusion that the effectiveness of antibiotics has been deliberately
destroyed for short-term profit. The drug companies, the medical establishment
and the farming industry will together be responsible for millions of deaths
around the world. The politicians who have stood to one side and allowed all
this to happen must share the responsibility.
During the last two
decades simple, widespread infections have been striking back and
re-establishing themselves as serious threats to our health - as serious as
cancer and heart disease.
In 1952, virtually all infections caused by
staphylococcus could be cured by penicillin. But just 30 years later a worrying
90% of patients infected with the staphylococcus bug needed treatment with other
Western doctors didn't worry about this because they had
other antibiotics to prescribe. With remarkable arrogance the medical profession
in America and Europe assumed that it could always stay one step ahead of the
What many doctors failed to realise was that yeasts, fungi and
bacteria have been producing antibiotics more or less since time began. They use
the antibiotics they make to protect themselves. Other yeasts, fungi and
bacteria mutate naturally in order to protect themselves against those
antibiotics. Through a mixture of ignorance and arrogance doctors speeded up the
rate at which bugs acquired resistance by spreading antibiotics around with
In order to try to stop bacteria causing so many
deaths in hospitals, doctors started routinely giving antibiotics to all the
patients whom they thought might be at risk - and this category naturally
included all those patients who were destined for surgery.
prescribing doctors either didn't realise or didn't care that by dishing out
antibiotics so freely they were giving the bacteria a greatly increased chance
of acquiring immunity.
Staphylococcus has not, of course, been the only
bug to become resistant and the western medical establishment, constantly afraid
of offending the drug companies, has done everything possible to stifle my
protests and warnings about the consequences.
Today the future is truly
bleak. Infectious diseases which we thought we had conquered are coming back
with a vengeance. More and more people are dying of simple, uncomplicated
infections. The bugs are getting stronger. And our ability to zap them is
diminishing almost daily.
Now, one in six prescriptions is for an
antibiotic. My educated guestimate is that between half and three quarters of
all these prescriptions are unnecessary or inappropriate.
over-prescribe because they like to do something when faced with a patient - and
prescribing a drug is virtually the only thing most of them can do. Prescribing
a drug is also a defence against any possible future charge of negligence (on
the basis that if the patient dies it is better to have done something than to
have done nothing).
But the main reason for the over-prescribing of
antibiotics is, without doubt, the fact that doctors are under the influence of
the drug companies. The makers of the antibiotics want their drugs prescribed in
vast quantities. It makes no difference to them whether or not the prescriptions
are necessary. There is now no doubt that many of our most useful drugs have
been devalued by overuse and are no longer effective.
hand out these potentially life-saving pills for minor coughs and infections
that would have got better anyway within days. Colds and flu are caused by
viruses - which are not susceptible to antibiotics.
antibiotics we have swallowed by the ton have weakened our general resistance to
infection and paradoxically, strengthened the power of the bugs.
existence of many antibiotic-resistant organisms is the main reason why
infections are such a major problem in hospitals. Alarmingly, at least 1 in 20
of all hospital patients will pick up an infection in hospital - mostly urinary
tract, chest or wound infections. (Bizarrely, the spread of these
antibiotic-resistant organisms is mostly caused by doctors and nurses failing to
wash their hands often enough.)
At first these new superbugs only caused
problems within hospitals - where they caused many deaths among patients whose
immune systems had been compromised by other diseases or by physical or mental
stresses. It was in hospitals that many superbugs first started to appear but
they are now appearing outside hospitals.
The problem is so great that
the extra costs incurred when doctors have to prescribe increasingly expensive
antibiotics is beginning to add an enormous burden to all those responsible for
providing health care facilities. In America, the extra cost of dealing with
antibiotic-resistant organisms is many billions of dollars a year.
Salmonella became a more or less untreatable disease in 1993 and now
poses a serious health threat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture
the best part of a million people are made ill every year by salmonella-infected
The big problem with salmonella bacteria is that some strains are
already resistant to ampicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, sulphonamides and
chloramphenicol. It won't be long before some salmonella bacteria are resistant
to all known antibiotics. When that happens the death rate from salmonella will
Most salmonella antibiotic resistance develops on farms where
half of all antibiotics produced are used (I will explain why in a moment or
two). Naturally, the salmonella bacteria in chickens affect the flesh of the
birds as well as their eggs. And the bacteria can easily spread from chicken
flesh to other products.
Unless the mass use of antibiotics on farms is
stopped salmonella poisoning will pose a great threat to future generations.
It is the overuse of antibiotics by farmers which is one of the main
reasons why infectious diseases are making a dramatic comeback.
Astonishingly, considerably more than half of all the antibiotics sold
are given by farmers to healthy animals.
Why do farmers give their
animals so many antibiotics?
Well, to start with, farmers give some
antibiotics to animals to help prevent (and treat) disease. Animals on modern
western farms are exceptionally susceptible to disease because they are kept in
overcrowded conditions and they are constantly highly stressed. Antibiotics help
to keep sick animals alive long enough to be slaughtered and fed into the food
chain. Antibiotics are also given because they help to stop diseases spreading
quickly among animals who are kept in cramped and entirely unnatural conditions.
When animals live in hideously confined quarters it is nigh on impossible to
stop infections spreading without using antibiotics.
Many American and
European farmers also routinely put antibiotics into the feed they give their
animals to prevent infections developing and the antibiotics that are dished out
in this grossly irresponsible way are often the same antibiotics that are
becoming dramatically less effective in the treatment of human diseases.
But farmers don't just give antibiotics to animals in order to deal with
disease. They also put antibiotics into their animal feed in order to promote
growth. Antibiotics increase the muscle bulk of animals - and therefore increase
their value and the farmer's eventual profit.
The process by which
antibiotic resistance develops on farms is simple to explain. When animals are
given antibiotics the bacteria in their intestines build up an immunity to those
antibiotics. Those antibiotic-resistant organisms then pass on to farmers and
others who have contact with the animals. They pass into the environment (even
though most animals are denied access to fields, their faeces and urine still
reach the environment when they are dumped onto fields or discharged into
rivers). And, of course, the antibiotic-resistant organisms pass into the food
chain directly when animals are killed, chopped up and eaten by humans. When
milk in the US was tested, researchers identified 52 different antibiotic
Between them, doctors and farmers have put us all at risk.
Around the world, millions of innocent people will die because of their reckless
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2011 Copyright Vernon